The benches for the outdoor classroom we built at our day of service with SAP last Saturday read: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, and Ocala STEAM Academy. There should be no mistake; STEAM is a priority for us at City Year, for SAP, and for Ocala – and we want it to be a priority for schools all across Silicon Valley.

In San Jose schools, 46% of students test at basic ability or below in the sciences. Just 13% of students at Overfelt High School test at grade level in math. But we know that STEAM industries are at the heart of Silicon Valley’s growth, and companies like SAP rely on schools here in San Jose to produce knowledgeable, skilled workers. That’s why we were so excited to build an outdoor classroom that explicitly referenced STEAM curricula, to give teachers another badly needed resource and kids the opportunity to learn about the world around them in an outdoor setting.

The first person on campus Saturday was, of course, Principal Tracy Leathers; her commitment to her students extends even to cheerfully showing up at school at 7 AM on the weekend just to make sure the alarm system was disarmed. Next to arrive were our City Year AmeriCorps members, who were themselves about twenty minutes early. By nine o’clock, the sun was starting to shine hot, breakfast was set out on the tables, our work stations were ready to go, and an enthusiastic, determined crowd of SAP volunteers had arrived.

Sunscreen sprayed, hats on, water iced – the hot day was no match for our team. As teams of adults got to work building a large outdoor chalkboard, an elevated stage, and ten benches, painting their backs with creative and beautiful small murals, the kids – both families of SAP employees and Ocala students – flexed their artistic muscles by painting flowerpots filled with succulents as thank-you gifts for Ocala teachers. Music drifted over the PA system as the groups worked, and some volunteers took short breaks from their work to ride around campus on a unicycle.

By noon, the bulk of the work was finished. We had built an entire classroom from scratch in a few short hours, and the kids had produced a large collection of beautiful gifts for hardworking educators. A few group photos and a well-deserved lunch break later, and the Service Day was over. Ocala has a new outdoor classroom now, built in a few short hours, ready for kids to slide across the benches and learn. Because of this day, Ocala is a more beautiful, more inspiring place to go to school, and its students and teachers have more resources at their disposal.

Our goals were simple: to reinforce the importance of STEAM on campus, and to have a fun day where City Year, SAP, and Ocala could work together. Check and check. Thanks to Ocala’s and SAP’s dedication and unflagging cheerfulness, it was a wonderful day in the sun, whose effects will be felt on Ocala’s campus for years to come.

More pictures can be found on Flickr.

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